An Alternate Reality"The Dr. Johnson who made that famous Dictionary?" exclaimed George so enthusiastically that she spewed flaky pastry all over Mr. Drew's immaculate Baluchistani carpet. "Who would have thought that you could get people to read a reference book just like it was a novel. I skimmed it from cover to cover, had great fun, and didn't find a single word I was looking for!"
"Oh, Ellie," said Bess in mock rebuke, her arms akimbo, "you never did even touch the cover of that book!"
As a girl George had always demanded to be called plain "George," and her friends and relations had accommodated her preference. But when she became pregnant everyone but Bess started calling her "Georgiana," despite her most vociferous protests. Even Nancy had succumbed, though she sometimes compromised by calling her formerly boyish chum "Georgie." Bess, ever a trooper, generally called her cousine anything but Georgiana. Sometimes it was some foreign version of "George," sometimes it was "Sandy" after George Sand or "Ellie" after George Eliot.
"Don't tell a soul," whispered George. "I have been telling all my actor friends that I have been practicing reading it out loud and that if ever I picked a section at random and started to intone it I could make even your chipmunks weep."
George meant to be facetious in her manner, but her cousin Bess was not fooled for a second.
"Oh Georg, you have been crying."
"You cruel hale-and-hearty party animals ought not to have left me alone so long," whimpered the distraught George.
Bess pulled up her chair an sat next to her cousin and gave her a gentle embrace. Bess and George had been inseparable chums as long as they could each remember. But since George's "accident" they had a new bond. Bess had convinced George to have the baby-they had not at that time contemplated twins-and had offered to help her bring it up, on condition that she got to be called "Aunt Bess" and not "cousin once removed." Sensitive to George's fractured feelings about men in general, she promised never to marry. Of course Bess hoped that time would heal her cousin's psychic wounds, leaving them both the option to make conjugal attachments in the indefinite future. At any rate, all the men Bess knew now seemed somewhat put off by her Nobel prize. Oh well, she had often sighed, I would rather have George, her kids, and the prize than any mountain of men!
To help George, Bess concocted an alternate explanation of the events that had led up to George being with child. The story was outrageous enough that it had a certain charm, yet was close enough to what almost could have been true that it had a modicum of plausibility. It was their chosen backstory, a tale that had a lot less of the villainous Ashley and a great deal more of the meddlesome Bess.
The story, which Bess and George agreed ought to be true, went like this: George was always a good and a careful girl, and either of these qualities should have been sufficient to preserve the spritely young woman from the premature ordeal of motherhood. George was careful around aggressive boys and presumptuous men and when trouble uninvited came her way she was always strong and nimble enough to hold it at bay.
What George did not take into account was her too ingenious and Faustian cousin Bess. Bess was always inventing things in order to alleviate the sufferings of humanity. The previous year, feeling exhausted from the clamouring publicity surrounding her recent Nobel prize, Bess hid in her coal cellar and didn't wear any of her pretty frocks for over a month. Clad only in her mother's outdated and faded floral-print housedresses, a greasy apron, and a deceased uncle's ratty cardigan she pottered with her old childhood chemistry set and ran experiments on chipmunks she kept in cages. At length Bess was confident that she had the answer to the world's overpopulation problem. It was a powder that she called "Germinix," which when taken by females of any species would prevent the production of unwanted offspring. Germinix was safer than birth control pills because it did not alter hormone levels. Bess next proposed to try it out on herself and George.
George at first protested that she did not wish to be a guinea pig, or even a chipmunk, for her cousin's unsanctioned experiments. She reminded Bess that the self-testing of a previous concoction-the infamous "pixie dust"-had gone terribly awry. But Bess assured her cousin that the new compound was amazingly benign.
"But to test it out I would have to . . ."
"No George, I just want to establish that it is safe. With no side effects."
"You just told me it was benign!"
"I know that, and you now know that, but the world can't know that until I have run some human tests. Otherwise I will just have a chipmunk control medicine."
Bess told her cousin that she herself was taking the Germinix too. Hungry as she generally was, Bess, George knew, was finicky about what she put in her mouth. So George reluctantly agreed.
A few months later George began to be sick in the mornings. Mrs. Fayne took George to the doctor, who tested her and found her to be with child. Mrs Fayne, greatly surprised, gave her supposedly ill-behaved daughter a royal dressing-down. George did not know what to say to defend herself. She felt like the Virgin Mary, and with no Joseph in sight.
And then she deduced the identity of the visiting angel. Bess!
"How could birth control, and no sex, make me pregnant?" she had challenged her all-too-clever cousin.
Bess had gone back to her study and pored over laboratory notebooks for days. When she visited the discomfited George, she sported a more than usually sheepish grin.
"I am sorry Georgie," she said. "I used some ordinary human genetic material in my formula. It was supposed to block fertilization by simulating a false fertilization. That vaccination approach worked well enough on chipmunks, since human genes could not possibly be matched up with theirs. But, in your case, my powder fertilized you."
"I'm awfully sorry, George," confessed the penitent amateur biologist. "How can we ever explain this to everybody? And will they take away my Nobel prize?"
"I don't think so Bess," said George, chattering at random to cover the disordered state of her feelings.
"If the prize were for chemistry or biology, I'll bet they would," she moaned.
"What will I say to my parents?" asked George desperately.
"We can't say anything!"
George looked at her cousin in surprise. "Nothing?"
"I will be in terrible trouble! And it won't make things better for either of us."
George supposed not. Bess had a habit of getting everyone she knew into deep trouble with the FBI and INTERPOL and the NSA and other authorities. Explanations and protestations of innocence always seemed to make things worse for Bess and her chums.
"Bess!" Something had suddenly occured to George. "You took the Germinix too. Are you pregnant?"
"No, it didn't take. I guess it was because I used my own genetic material. It was too close a match and the cells didn't survive."
Before another second had elapsed George had it all figured out.
"Bess! You are the father of my child!"
Bess explained to her cousin that she wasn't the father precisely, but just another mother. One who didn't get pregnant.
"But isn't that the definition of a father?"
Bess squirmed. She hated the thought of being a father. How could she look at herself in her new sundress and say "Bess, look at yourself, aren't you just the prettiest . . . father?" And would she have to smoke an unpleasantly aromatic cigar to celebrate the birth of the child?
"I wonder if it will be a male or female?" George wondered.
"Female," answered Bess immediately.
"Oh yes," said George. "I wasn't thinking."
A few minutes later George thought of another interesting question.
"We are first cousins. Are we too closely related? Will the poor kid have a tail or something?"
"Don't be silly. Cousins marry all the time," Bess answered. But in her heart of hearts, she was not so sure.
"Are we married, Bess?"
"Eeeew, Georgie. Don't even think that."
"I'll try not to," said George, giving Bess what she thought was a model cousinly or chummy embrace. "We're just friends."
"Always," agreed Bess.
"But who am I married to?" asked George.
That is when the resourceful girls first invented Mr. Watson. His official name was Bobby Watson, after the characters invented by George's fifth-favorite playwright, Eugene Ionesco. This imaginary husbandly paragon had also some of the qualities of the sidekick of Sherlock Holmes and some of the sporting talent of a certain admired golf champion. Like both of the above Mr. Watson was always absent, either on the trail of Moriarty with Holmes or in quest of a green jacket on the PGA Tour.
The first person the cousins told of the strange experiment and its unexpected result was Nancy Drew. Being the clever sleuth that she was, Nancy would soon have had the truth out of her wayward chums in any case. In spite of all her unusual experience on the trail of crime, Nancy was amazed.
"I never would have guessed in a million years!" said the young courtroom star.
"Yes, you would have," said George. "Once you eliminated all the impossibilities, you would have no alternative but to suspect the possible improbable, that is to say, Bess."
"But I would have been shocked by my own conclusion," responded the stunned investigator.
Shocked as she was, and somewhat disappointed in the cousins at first, Nancy Drew was loyal as ever to her chums. She went and explained the situation to her father.
"It is without precedent!" said George later. "I'll bet that is what Mr. Drew said."
Indeed Nancy's father in his excitement did make a remark much to that effect. He was subsequently understandably furious with his daughter's friends.
"How can I trust my daughter around those delinquent girls if they behave like that?" asked the eminent lawyer, with no little justification.
The next day Carson Drew was sufficiently calm that he could discuss the delicate situation with his daughter. He chose to treat it as a legal and publicity problem. That way the problem seemed more manageable to him than if he explored the medical, emotional, or even common sense ramifications.
"We must protect Bess," he admitted. "This must never get out."
"I think so too," said Nancy matter-of-factly.
"Has Bess destroyed the Germinix?" he asked.
"She burned all the supplies of the powder that she had made," reported Nancy. "I watched her do it. And, wearing a protective mask, I helped to clean up the whole basement. Bess has admitted to her family that something went terribly wrong down there and has forbidden them access. She doesn't want any unsuspecting folks to breathe in any dust that might be still suspended in the air. She has contrived an instrument that will detect even microscopic amounts of Germinix. If the device shows the air to be clear for a month, Bess will let others venture back down there."
"Was anyone else in the basement during the known hazardous period?" queried the anxious Carson Drew.
"Only Bess's brother Jim. He is safe, being a boy."
"But he could carry the powder into the range of some unsuspecting female."
"Bess made him take a thorough shower with antiseptic soap."
"He could have spread it already," said the exasperated lawyer. "What if, through Jim, Bess has fathered children on her mother? The story of Oedipus has nothing on those girls!"
Nancy looked a little glum.
"It was the best we could do, Daddy," she said. "For now we have to keep our fingers crossed."
This last expedient was clearly efficacious, since over the next few months no one in Bess's family or anyone in their neighborhood became unexpectedly pregnant.
When Bess gave Nancy the all clear signal, Carson Drew approached the Marvin and Fayne families with the strange tidings. After the shock wore off the families closed ranks around George's pregnancy and joined the conspiracy of silence regarding Bess's unholy experimentation. They all pretended that George's delicate condition and the absence of a husband was the most ordinary and unremarkable thing in the world. George now was Mrs. Watson, and no one ever commented-in front of her or in the presence of any of her family members-on her anomalous situation.
Bess got up from her cousin's side.
"We'll get you back to the party," she proclaimed. "I'll get Ned to find you a wheelchair."
"Tell him to make it something sporty," requested George as Bess ducked out the door. She was only half in earnest. At this moment anything on wheels would suffice, as long as it got her out of the study. The aggressive masculinity that suffused Carson Drew's workroom reminded her too sharply of the inner demons from which she felt a sharp desire to escape.